What makes RISE different to other tech conferences?

What makes RISE different to other tech conferences?

May 30, 2016 by Mike Harvey

In this post our Head of Comms, Mike Harvey, talks through what he thinks marks RISE out from other conferences.

It’s amazing to see the RISE posters on the streets of this great city. The buzz around Hong Kong is really incredible. The different Night Summit events for the opening evening last night have set things up in style. I am head of communications for Web Summit and RISE and I want to explain why RISE is different from other conferences.

RISE is part of the Web Summit family. Web Summit started in 2010 in Dublin, Ireland, with 400 attendees. It was born from our founders’ frustration attending tech conferences. They felt there was a different way to organise conferences. That different way seemed to work. Web Summit grew incredibly fast. From that very first Summit in 2010, word spread across the world. In 2015, just over 42,000 attendees flew to Ireland from 135 countries.

RISE is growing fast. Web Summit had only 1,000+ attendees in its second year. RISE has 8,000+. The real question though is what makes RISE so different.

Engineering Serendipity

Our focus since 2010, our different approach, is engineering serendipity. Networking is king at conferences. And if you can fundamentally improve networking at scale then you can become a kingmaker. That’s where software comes in.

While conference organisers typically hire experienced event planners, we hire computational physicists, applied statisticians, engineers of all shapes and sizes, some folks who know a thing or two about machine learning and AI, and then some awesome front end developers.

While traditional conference organisers fret over manually curating seating plans, compiling speaker lists and handpicking invites for networking events, we approach the challenge from a technical point of view. We build algorithms that take into account who you are and who you might benefit from being on a pub crawl with or at a table with or in a meeting with. We “engineer serendipity” at the scale of thousands of attendees. Put another way, the people at your table or on your pub crawl at RISE are neither a random collection of attendees nor a manually curated group of attendees, but rather the product of algorithms.

19975762800_89b2724a33_oMike onstage at RISE 2015

The invisible hand

In truth, there’s an invisible (engineer-led data-driven) hand at work before, during and after RISE helping improve serendipity. If you watch a lot of movies, it’s a sort of “MoneyBall for Conferences”.

Some people say great things about RISE and Web Summit, and at the core of this is our mobile app. It suggests the best talks suited to your interests and automatically finds the most relevant people for you to connect with out of the 8,000+ attendees.

We’re also obsessed with details

As many small details as possible at our conferences are informed by both our own research and testing, as well as academic research carried out by others. We’ve obsessed about lanyard design, queuing theory, crowd flow, wayfinding systems and much more.

Take a look at your lanyard. The height at which it hangs around your neck is informed by the fields of anthropometry and way-finding. As is the font selection, kerning, line spacing, letter height to width ratios and then some more.

We don’t assume for one moment that we have conferences figured out. We believe in constantly improving, constantly tweaking and constantly changing. Every conference we run is like a new software update. We’re not just adding or improving features, we’re also bug fixing. It’s relentless, but so far it seems to have worked in Europe, the United States and now Asia. We have taken the lessons from RISE last year and updated for this week.


I hope you enjoy the coming week in Hong Kong. Come with an open mind. You can follow the Centre Stage action on the RISE Facebook page if you can’t make it in person.

About the Author

Mike Harvey
Mike Harvey
Mike Harvey is head of strategic communications at Web Summit. He is a former Times news and features editor and Silicon Valley correspondent, a former Googler and a former director of a London PR agency. He has been telling stories about tech for ages. Get him @mikeharvey.